The Paradox of Love
The sexual revolution is justly celebrated for the freedoms it brought–birth control, the decriminalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce, greater equality between the sexes, women’s massive entry into the workforce, and more tolerance of homosexuality. But as Pascal Bruckner, one of France’s leading writers, argues in this lively and provocative reflection on the contradictions of modern love, our new freedoms have also brought new burdens and rules–without, however, wiping out the old rules, emotions, desires, and arrangements: the couple, marriage, jealousy, the demand for fidelity, the war between constancy and inconstancy. It is no wonder that love, sex, and relationships today are so confusing, so difficult, and so paradoxical.
Westerners believe that love makes life worth living; that sex is a natural desire different in kind from love; and that only cynics reduce our love life to a calculation of economic or genetic factors. In this volume, essays explore these and other assumptions about the relationship between romantic love and sex. This represents the first interdisciplinary social science study of love and sex.
The intense urbanization and industrialization of America’s largest city from the turn of the twentieth century to World War II was accompanied by profound shifts in sexual morality, sexual practices, and gender roles. Comparing prostitution and courtship with a new working-class practice of heterosexual barter called “treating,” Elizabeth Clement examines changes in sexual morality and sexual and economic practices.
Women “treated” when they exchanged sexual favors for dinner and an evening’s entertainment or, more tangibly, for stockings, shoes, and other material goods. These “charity girls” created for themselves a moral space between prostitution and courtship that preserved both sexual barter and respectability. Although treating, as a clearly articulated language and identity, began to disappear after the 1920s and 1930s, Clement argues that it still had significant, lasting effects on modern sexual norms. She demonstrates how treating shaped courtship and dating practices, the prevalence and meaning of premarital sex, and America’s developing commercial sex industry. Even further, her study illuminates the ways in which sexuality and morality interact and contribute to our understanding of the broader social categories of race, gender, and class.